Bryce Harper

With Wheeler out of the way, is Harper next to be extended?

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CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies had more immediate fish to fry when Bryce Harper and agent Scott Boras made clear during the offseason that Harper was interested in a contract extension. Zack Wheeler's deal was set to expire after the 2024 season, whereas Harper still had eight years to go.

Wheeler was the clear top priority, just as re-signing Aaron Nola was the clear top priority 3½ months prior. Nola is locked up. Wheeler is now locked up, as well.

Will that mean the attention shifts to satisfying Harper?

"At this point, I don't really have any comment other than what I've said, my goal is that he retires as a Phillie," managing partner John Middleton said Monday after the press conference to announce Wheeler's $126 million extension. "My expectation is that he will retire as a Phillie. We need to get something done, but when we get it done and how it gets done, it's not clear to me."

Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies before 2019. It was the largest total value in MLB history when he signed it, but Mike Trout beat it by nearly $100 million less than a month later, and now Harper's contract ranks eighth all-time in total value behind Shohei Ohtani, Trout, Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge, Manny Machado (who earned more via an opt-out), Francisco Lindor and Fernando Tatis Jr.

In terms of annual average value, which is the salary number applied to the luxury tax, Harper's $25.38M is 47th all-time, less per year than guys like Xander Bogaerts, Kris Bryant and Bobby Witt Jr.

Beyond the value of having Bryce Harper, his contract has helped the Phillies add more talent because of the relatively low AAV for a superstar. Harper also specifically chose to have no opt-outs in his contract. He reiterated last week that he's happy about that because otherwise, he'd be fielding all the same questions about his future from his days with the Nationals.

"That's the one thing that everybody always talked about when I was in D.C.," he recalled. "Where's he going to go? Where's he going to go? Where's he going to end up? What's he going to do? Is he going to stay? Is he going to go? And I'm so thankful I have the deal that I do and I know that I'm going to be here.

"Just being able to understand I want to be here longer than I am right now. I think that's a conversation between me and John. I have so much respect for this organization, I love being a Phillie and I want to win. I try every day to do everything I can for this organization. It's a conversation me and John will hopefully have at some point."

It is unusual for a player to seek or receive an extension less than halfway through such a long-term deal, but you can understand it from Harper's perspective. His presence and contract have helped transform the Phillies back into a contending team players in other cities want to join. There's no opt-out so Harper doesn't have the contractual leverage Machado had or so many other stars have to reformat their deal, but he's made such an enormous impact on and off the field that an extension could almost serve as a compromise. It would mean more money and certainty for the player, potentially without reducing the luxury tax benefits of Harper's current $25.38M annual salary.

"I understand there's other guys to take care of," he said the week before Wheeler's extension was finalized, "but contract negotiations can happen throughout the season. We'll see what Scott and Dave (Dombrowski) can come up with."

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